In this messy show you can really hear the beginnings of the country influences that were creeping into the Grateful Dead and that would become fully realized in 1970. But in its embryonic stages, the Dead as a country band was an unwieldy beast, and tonight’s show, while interesting, is not very solid.
Part of this might have to do with Mickey Hart’s absence during the first few tunes (but probably not). In his place, the Dead stuck Tom Ralston, the drummer from a local outfit called The Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band. He holds his own, but nothing more.
I believe the real reason for the sloppiness tonight is that the Dead are testing out new, seldom played tunes and are also trying to incorporate Jerry on pedal steel guitar. But since the Dead often “rehearsed” their new songs during their actual paid performances, things could get a little loose, as is the case on the newish tunes tonight. And there are a bunch of them at the start of this show: Slewfoot (3rd time played and one of only nine ever played), Mama Tried (3rd time played), High Time (3rd time played), Casey Jones (2nd or 3rd time played, depending on who you believe) and Dire Wolf (5th time played, and with Bob on lead vocals none the less) are all in their infancy. None are played particularly well, but it’s a treat to hear Jerry rip on Dire Wolf.
However, this is 1969 and there is always some magic about. Tonight, that takes the form of a Dark Star that is clearly cross-pollinated with an uncredited The Other One. Things start out lightly, but by the midway point, the band is really chugging along with The Other One jam (while still really playing Dark Star) and some very interesting melodic ideas take hold. At one point, Phil Lesh attempts to move into Turn on Your Lovelight, but the rest of the band is having none of it and Dark Star marches on, a steam locomotive rolling down the track. This is a unique version of the song and is clearly the highlight of the evening, especially since St. Stephen, where we end up at the end of Dark Star, is a rhythmic mess and the boys cut off what would typically be a pulsating The Eleven to swerve back into country mode for another rarity – The Green Green Grass of Home (one of only nine ever played). Don’t get too attached to It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, since it’s severely cut.
While this is not a tape you’re going to play every day, it’s an interesting historical relic of that brief period of transition into the Dead’s very fruitful early 70’s dance with country music, and for that, it bears hearing at least once. Listen here: https://archive.org/details/gd69-06-27.sbd.samaritano.20547.sbeok.shnf